Thursday, February 12, 2009

The raindance that is color management

After getting back from the 2008 PIA Color Management Conference (Phoenix, Arizona) I really had to take a few steps back to regain my composure.

Even after all of the fun and comradeship of meeting my fellow national competitors and potential and current clients had to get back home to rest from the show. I too like many that have been involved with Color production for 15 + years (ok its getting closer to 20, shhhhh) have had many preconceived notions of what is right and wrong both in and out of the pressroom. As we get closer to our PHD’s in Physics and Electromagnetic Science we still are really not much closer than we were with filters and rubylith film.

The witchcraft we practiced in sales, pre press and then ultimately the great rain dance in the press room to appease the color gods so that they would bless the job just in time for the ever dreaded, “press check” was just part of the business.

Now almost 20 years later not really anything has changed but our understanding of the problems that we face. We can talk about standardization, we can talk about the initiatives and really between it all it has stayed very academic. Start anywhere say the measurement of color (spectrophotometer) The reality is whether to UV filter or not really doesn’t make much difference when the bulbs all come from different sources and age giving different results the only commonality. As all businesses drive to the lowest common denominator and it is sad when our response to the economic pressures of fierce competition is "how cheap do you want it and what are you willing to sacrifice to get it?"

Sure we love to fix it all of the problems or would we?

If G7 methodology was really the answer and we could come up with an idea that really could be visualized on paper and agreed upon by everyone and we could send it anywhere in the world and it could be reproduced without question would we really have accomplished anything? Do you really want your customer to have such an exact science that he or she could come up with your secret sauce so easily as to just waltz over say 12,000 miles away to a nearby printer and get the EXACT same results?

And for half the cost? Ok a fifth of the cost?

What makes printers so special is that they are innovators and what truly separates the Leaders from the Challengers is their vision and ability to adapt and create unique methodologies to solve unusual and creative business problems. What will separate the men from the boys now is the ability to; recapitalize their toys in the digital realm, commit to the long term, and their ability to automate the rest.

Robots or Die I say!

No really you will never take the “craft” out of printing and publishing, even if it all goes digital or better yet, visually digital and skips the paper process all together. You will always need thinkers and young minds with old experienced hands to make it all work right. There will always be deadlines to meet and customer visual misunderstandings as we all think we know what it really should look like.

Now more than ever I hold tight to technology as it drags me through the mud. As an equipment vendor I now have to be able to show it, justify it and in the end still have to be able to run it as to keep the peace when everything goes wrong. And even worse, since I cater only to the printing and publishing industry (actually one of their very own) I have twice the hurdle to overcome. I cannot walk away when things are not working out. I have to stay and operate the equipment like I did some 10-15 years ago and show that even know I am still the Pirate that is and not just “was”.

But even with all of the technology, no one will really agree on anything. It perpetuates the lies that have been told for a century or better. We all think we know better and that is great it is why you will see 3 brands of color viewers all of varying ages, bulbs, surroundings and types all in the same pressroom with yet a different set of circumstances in the prepress room and in the customer viewing area.

I am glad that we get to keep our secrets and continue making our secret sauce. I for one would be sad just to be another number that can reproduce color perfectly time and time again. I like to leave that to the prepress soothsayers and color witchdoctors of the here and now.
What never changes is one’s passion to excellence and the drive that it takes to realize it. Whether you are the pressman in the back or the salesman coming in from the front we all have to be on top of our game in these tough and competitive times. I look forward to the challenge and the surviving another holocaust like we have before. From the paper shortage to the realization of our harsh chemicals that we so daily rubbed on everything each contraction is volleyed with an equally and greater expansion. Nothing like seeing old friends and making new ones as this career of mine has treated me so very well.

Even though the technology is driving competitors to find new ways to distinguish themselves and solve yet new problems we are still doing the same thing we did before the Apple and Desktop Publishing – Communicating to the world through visual symbols and colors. I love this mess I’m in and I look forward to another 20 years of it.

You should see my rain dance it is awesome!

Pirate Mike…

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